Yoni Kretzmer 66 Boxes

Graceless
OutNow Records ONOR14

By Ken Waxman

Exploring new sonic territories, tenor saxophonist Yoni Kretzmer’s five compositions on Graceless are skeletal enough so that the improvisational garments hung on them by band members determine their silhouettes as much as the initial design. That leads to some provocative, free-form performances, especially as 66 Boxes includes stylists conversant with many currents of music.

Wild card here is Israeli-American guitarist Eyal Maoz, whose interpolations owe as much to rock and Middle-Eastern Jewish music as jazz. With elastic string strategies that can range from concentrated frails to bubbling purrs, Maoz frequently introduces contrasting motifs to the performances, pushing the lines in startling directions until one or more of the other players redirect the sequence to an appropriate conclusion. Kretzmer of course, has the experience of having worked with so-called downtown musicians in both Israel and NYC, while percussionist Andrew Drury and cellist Daniel Levin add skills honed in contemporary notated music as well as jazz.

What this means essentially is that chameleon-like, the shape and scope of each exposition can change radically as each musician adds individual ideas to the exposition. This is obvious as early as “Basement Songs”, the first track. With the saxophonist’s mellow breathiness initially suggesting a low-key narrative, Maoz’s harsh reverb demands answering string pinches from the cellist and so many tough off-centre rhythms from Drury that the tune is eventually transformed into a polyphonic slice of free jazz. Despite reed slurps and quivering string vibrations however its basic form is maintained.

While other tracks display variations of this dissonant-harmonious strategy, it’s actually the most deconstructed pieces that are most notable. “One One” for instance, seems to unfold in slow motion, piling up enigmatic sounds that could be sourced from any one of the instruments, creating a mesmerizing effect. Meanwhile the intervallic “The Day After Yesterday” strips as many timbres from the band interface as the former tune added to it. Sympathetic cello scrubs are separated from guitar string quivers and saxophone slurs until a finale where off-kilter lines bond into a nuanced interlude.

Taken as a whole, the experiments conducted and resolved on this CD are definitively much more graceful than Graceless.

Tracks: Basement Song; New Dilemma; Leaving It to the End; One One; The Day After Yesterday

Personnel: Yoni Kretzmer: tenor saxophone; Eyal Maoz: guitar; Daniel Levin: cello; Andrew Drury: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record January 2014